by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Three years ago the Elk River volleyball lineup had players nicknamed Big Fink and a Little Fink. A spindly 5-foot-6 freshman, Janell Finkbeiner, had become a first-stringer, entrusted to provide sets for an attack led by 6-foot senior Rachel Finkbeiner.
Janell never minded being called Little Fink but the moniker has long since faded away as she grew to 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds and developed into an all-around force for the Elks. She has made all-conference twice on winning teams and helped the Elks start her senior year 3-0.
“Janell has been a good setter throughout her career and she has developed a strong attack, too,” said coach Pam Gothe. “She has a really hard swing. Same thing at the serving line.”
Finkbeiner remains a soft-handed setter — 1,061 kills entering her senior year — but that was only a third of her value during a stellar junior season when she lofted 461 assists while serving 75 aces and spiking for 174 kills. She had 44 aces her sophomore year.
Gothe decided to make Finkbeiner a rare freshman starter because the staff sensed she had special qualities.
“We saw that she had a calm demeanor, she was very even keel, and she had such sweet hands, so we thought she might be able to handle the pressure. And she did. Not many freshmen could do that. It probably helped that she had her sister with her that year.”
Finkbeiner savored that lone season with Rachel, who now plays for LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
“Yes, that was a lot of fun, to set for her,” said Janell. “We had a good connection between us.”
The Elks were 12-16 that year but they’ve pushed ahead to 15-12 and 16-14 the past two seasons. Last year the Elks placed fourth among 11 in their conference and reached the section finals, losing to Andover.
“That’s the goal, definitely, to make state. This year, I think we can do it,” said Finkbeiner, who’s co-captain of a lineup that’s smallish (she’s taller than all but one of the hitters) but very athletic and experienced. “Getting to the section finals was really big for us. Andover graduated a lot of people.”
Finkbeiner has contributed 26 kills, 11 aces, 62 assists and 21 digs to the 3-0 start by the Elks.
A one-sport athlete, Finkbeiner started volleyball in fourth grade and has played year-round since age 12. Her club team is Northern Lights. “Just playing a lot, and practicing a lot, all year, really helps,” acknowledged Finkbeiner. Added Gothe: “The experience she’s gotten with Northern Lights, with their success in national tournaments, has been huge for Janell.”
At the 15’s level with Northern Lights, Finkbeiner got to play in the finals of two national tournaments, both AAU in Florida and USAV in Nevada.
During competition on the club team Finkbeiner specializes as a setter, much like it will be in college.
“So it’s fun to get back to the high school season and hit and play all the way around,” reflected Finkbeiner. “But I love setting especially.”
After what she hopes will be a big senior year, her next school team will be the University of Mary in North Dakota.
THE FINKBEINER SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents, Keith and Joan; sister, Rachel, 20 … Sport: volleyball … Academics: 3.67 GPA …. College plans: University of Mary, marketing major, volleyball
Favorite stuff — Classes: DECA marketing, math …. TV show: “Friends” … Movies: old Disney movies, “Just Go With It,” “She’s the Man”… Music: Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean … Food: “My mom’s chicken pot pie.” … Drink: Gatorade blue … Team: Vikings … Athletes: Misty May and Carrie Walsh … Hobbies: shopping, fashion …. Would like to visit: Paris